Sentinel's Central Floridian of the Year turns 30

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The Orlando Sentinel's first Floridian of the Year for 1983 was a strong-willed woman who slugged it out with this state's power brokers.

Coincidentally, so is our 30th honoree, Deirdre Macnab.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn't afraid to fight for their beliefs, even when confronted with powerful special interests. Neither is Macnab.

Douglas wanted to save Florida's Everglades. Macnab wants to protect Florida's voters.

The two bookends are representative of the people who came in between.

Over the course of three decades, the Sentinel has recognized scientists, educators, athletes, social workers, executives, philanthropists and religious figures.

Each made an important contribution to the state or to the region.

And each, in his or her own way, was a fighter.

Kate Hale, the 1992 winner, went on national television three days after Hurricane Andrew flattened south Dade County. Sick of the political infighting that was delaying assistance, Hale demanded, "Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?" That very day President George H.W. Bush called up 30,000 troops.

A group of young baseball players from Apopka, against huge odds, went to the Little League World Series in 2001. They came thisclose to taking the series, but won the region's hearts in trying.

Michael Dippy, the unassuming surfer/skater dude and 2010 winner, had a chance encounter with a homeless man that led to his founding of IDignity to help street people regain their official identities, and hope.

You can read the full list on the previous page, or go to OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion to read stories about the winners and watch videos of the more recent ones.

The Floridian of the Year was born in 1983 while Jane Healy was an editorial writer. She later became the Editorial Board editor, and winner of a Pulitzer Prize.

"This is a bit different from the Time magazine person of the year, which recognizes the person who had the most impact, positive or negative," Healy wrote in an email. "We thought in the chaos of all that was going on in Florida, it was important for the community to recognize those folks."

John Haile, who oversaw the editorial pages in 1983 and later became the Sentinel's editor, remembers a lively debate over the 1999 selection of John Gorrie as Floridian of the Millennium.

"There were many arguments for political figures, for people who had developed different parts of the state, for others who had fought to protect those things that make Florida so special," Haile said via Facebook message. "In the end, choosing the person who had developed the air conditioner just seemed to make so much sense. It made the modern Florida possible, including the pressures that continue to challenge the state."

The Editorial Board largely steered clear of politicians but made an exception by naming then-Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings for providing competence and comfort after Florida was hammered by four hurricanes in 2004.

Anyone who has served on the Editorial Board knows these choices aren't made easily. For 2012, readers nominated more than 50 of their fellow Central Floridians.

People like Allie Braswell, who heads the Central Florida Urban League and helps people get back to work; Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida for promoting diversity in sports; Harvey Massey of Massey Services for speaking his mind on tough issues; and Rachael and Lou Augspurg, whose work on, and devotion to, the Florida Trail makes the great outdoors more accessible.

Drawing from the nominations, the Editorial Board chose several runners-up. You can read about them in the space above this column.

For me, it was particularly important to recognize the contributions of Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and Allen Chapel Pastor Valarie Houston.

They became key media figures last year after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. But amid all the emotion, anger and outrage, they kept their wits and helped calm passions. They went about it in different ways, but when their community most needed leadership in 2012, they stood out.

To them, and to all of those who make life better in Central Florida, the Orlando Sentinel offers thanks.

mlafferty@tribune.com

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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

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